This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on June 16, 2015.
On the patchwork planet of Battleworld, where Doom is god and Stephen Strange his sheriff, Thors uphold the law. They are a police station staffed by Thors from across the multiverse, some familiar and others brand new. It’s a bizarre concept that fits perfectly into the increasingly odd crossover of Secret Wars. Though it may not always hit its mark, Thors #1 delivers a vibrant spin on one of Marvel’s most popular characters.
The first issue centers on Ultimate Thor and Beta Ray Bill, who are referred to by their friends as Lief and Ray, respectively. They are hot on the trail of a serial killer who is moving between the various realms of Battleworld undetected. It reads like an urban crime procedural, a pastiche to Homicide: Life On The Street. The vibrant superhero elements add plenty of color to the story, differentiating it from the absurd proliferation of crime procedurals on television–even if Top Ten already nailed this particular spin on the concept 15 years ago.
Jason Aaron’s script is strongest when it plays characters and concepts straight. Aliens, mutants, and frogs are more than enough to spice up the tried-and-true formula without getting cute with the concept. The visuals alone provide ample incentive to engage with this cop story, even when it only consists of a barful of Thors chatting after their beat. Various Thors work their way into archetypal roles, and at least one other character surfaces in a pleasantly surprising cameo that makes perfect sense in this context.
But the high concept often distracts from the procedural elements of the story. Naming conventions surrounding the Thors are muddled, with characters switching from formal Thor-titles to informal nicknames seemingly at random. As the scope and specific details of Secret Wars are considered more, the less contained and compelling this story feels. Much of the procedural is told in big, bold clichés as well. There’s a racist, drunk cop, a rookie getting razzed, tall tales of the good ol’ days, and plenty more, as if a checklist were being marked off. Thors shouldn’t be concerned with subtlety, but it often hits you over the head with Mjolnir.
The last panel of Thors #1 feeds into one of the worst visual clichés in superhero comics, but the rest of penciler Chris Sprouse and inker Karl Story’s work is far more inventive. Sprouse displays the same wit and verve for colorful, genre storytelling as when he worked on Tom Strong. While the basic elements of each Thor are consistent (e.g. helmet, hammer, chest shields), all of their designs are distinct. That’s even more impressive considering the number of Thors included in this issue.
Sprouse doesn’t shy away from adding oddities either. It seems the motto for this collection of super-cops is: the weirder, the better. Throg has the single best panel of the entire issue, one that displays Sprouse’s dynamic sense of composition, but it is still difficult to pick a favorite Thor. Aaron and Sprouse are sure to give as many members of their cast a substantive character beat without distracting from the thrust of the issue. Odder Thors also stand out against leading man Lief who, despite having ordinary (albeit extraordinarily handsome) features, sports a constant, unchanging scowl.
Thors #1 can be strange, fun, and inventive in the same way that all of the most enjoyable Secret Wars tie-ins have been. It really hits its stride when Sprouse unleashes his design skills and spices up these typically grim settings. No matter how many groan-worthy tropes Thors #1 hits upon, the concept is great at its core, making for an enjoyable twist on a very familiar set-up.